7 Ways for Non-Natives to Empower Native People

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By Ada Claire


A few months back, I was asked the following question: “Is there any way that I as a non-native can help indigenous people have the status they deserve?” I am so glad to see this question being asked. I think in large part due to the recent draw of media attention to the R*dskins controversy, native issues are starting to come to light in the general public these days outside of native/native associated communities. It’s good to see people relatively outside of the bubble of effect wanting to be helpful and that initiative should be supported. So, without further ado, here are 7 ideas on how, as a non-Native, you can help.

1. Buy Native: This is a big one. Instead of purchasing products from a mass brand store, buy from indigenous artists. This helps with preserving culture as well as effecting and empowering the native economy.

2. Experience and Educate Yourself on Local Tribes: Even if you’re from a place like Georgia which is a state that contains no federally recognized tribes, look for state-recognized tribes or even unrecognized tribes residing within the state. Educate yourself on your local indigenous communities, learn about what life is like for natives in your region.

3. Learn a Native Language: There are ~300 distinct Native American languages in the USA/Canada alone (there are MANY more if you also count Central/South America and the Caribbean), many of which have a number of speakers in the single digits or are otherwise extremely close to extinction. However, there are many resources available online and via text (heck, even Star Wars was translated into Navajo!). Native Americans are a people of oral history and communication. It’s imperative to learn indigenous languages to understand and pass on the stories and culture of native people. I think Nelson Mandela put it best by saying “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” I myself study and teach Jicarilla Apache right now, everyone is welcome to study with me. Aside from that, here’s a website offering free Native language lessons in 12 languages. (http://www.multilingualbooks.com/freelessons-nativeamerican.html)

4. Visit or Volunteer on a Reservation: This. This, this, this. If you’ve never been to a reservation, it’s very hard to understand the actual reality of lifestyle and struggles of many modern Natives. There are many volunteer programs available for people wanting to do volunteer teaching, medical work, or manual labor in Native communities (just PLEASE don’t go unless you have the skills to actually help, I won’t even get started on my issues with “voluntourism”…). Going to Powwows is also fun and educational.

5. Donate Money: This is one of the most helpful and least time consuming things you can do to help. There are many reasonable and verified charities who work within the indigenous communities and know how to help and influence things from a Native-based approach. Being culturally relevant to Native communities is a BIG part of helping them recover from their trans-generational trauma. Be sure to do your research, there are lots of scams out there and it’s important to know that the money you’re giving will be going directly to the source. Some good charities I can personally recommend are One Spirit, Old Minto Recovery Programs, and Tiwahe.

6. Learn Native History: The United States does a seriously bad job educating its students on Native history. Here’s an article detailing exactly how shockingly poor of a job we do. (http://nativeamericanresources.blogspot.com/2014/11/all-indians-are-dead-worst-lesson-that.html). Read a book. Talk to an elder. Learn about the boarding schools, reservations, and forced sterilizations. Just educate yourself! A good, broad starter book I would recommend would be An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (Revisioning American History) by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.

7. Get Involved with the Indigenous Abroad: Indigenous people all the world round tend to fall at a serious disadvantage politically, socially, and monetarily. All of the above comments apply the world round. I’ve volunteered with some of the indigenous groups in Japan and the Philippines, seeing what Natives live like around the world is eye opening to everyone, indigenous or not.